NBA

Can the Miami Heat regain last season’s playoff magic after a mediocre regular season?

After a surprising run to the NBA Finals in a season that was interrupted by the pandemic, the Miami Heat looked like a team that was built to make several trips back to the finals for the coming years, especially after locking up All-Star big man Bam Adebayo to a five-year, $163 million contract before the start of the season. However, after their dominant postseason run, in which they picked apart the Bucks in five games and pushed past the Celtics in the conference finals, the Heat have looked nothing like that team in the bubble this season as they try to avoid the play-in tournament and potentially risking missing the playoffs altogether. 

With the quick offseason turnaround, the Heat didn’t have much time off after their Finals run, which resulted in a slow start to the 2020-21 campaign, where they went 7-12 over the first month and a half of the schedule. It also didn’t help that Jimmy Butler played in just eight of the team’s first 20 games with an ankle injury, as well as entering the league’s health and safety protocols.

Miami was also one of the hardest hit teams due to COVID-19, and it resulted in several other players being quarantined and a couple games played with the bare minimum of guys available on the roster. Then there’s the injuries to Goran Dragic (19 games missed), Tyler Herro (18 games missed) and Victor Oladipo (17 games missed), which has had an impact on the team’s continuity on a night-to-night basis. 

The Oladipo injury is especially tough as the team traded for the former All-Star with the intention of him being an X-factor for the stretch run of the regular season and into the playoffs. However, since Oladipo was traded from Houston to Miami in late March, he’s played in just four games as he’s been out with a knee injury since April 8. Oladipo was averaging 21 points in Houston this season, but in the four games he’s played with Miami, he managed to average just 12 points before going down with another rough injury. 

Injuries and pandemic-related obstacles aside, the Heat have also just been incredibly mediocre on the floor this season, especially on offense. Last season, the Heat were the seventh-ranked offense in the league, and couple that with an above-average defense they were a tough opponent every single night. They were second in the league in 3-point percentage, led by Duncan Robinson who had the fourth-best 3-point percentage in the league.

This season, though, Miami ranks 24th in the league in 3-point percentage, and their offense is eighth-worst in the league. Their defense ranks in the top 10, but when they can’t get anything going on offense, it doesn’t matter how good they are on the other end of the floor.  

2019-20

111.9 (7th)

109.3 (12th)

37.9% (2nd)

51.2% (5th)

54.7% (3rd)

2020-21

109.7 (22nd)

110.3 (8th)

35.1% (24th)

48.9% (22nd)

53.9% (14th)

Although Robinson is still shooting north of 40 percent from deep on the season, his efficiency has taken a dip from the historical numbers he was putting up a year ago (44.6 percent). Specifically, his 3-point shots in the corner have taken a nosedive. Robinson was making 50 percent of his corner 3s last season, putting him in the 90th percentile in the league, according to Cleaning the Glass. This season, he’s making just 36 percent of those attempts. He’s still one of the league’s best 3-point shooters, but because he’s now part of the scouting report, team’s aren’t allowing him to get off as many open looks or shots in rhythm and it’s impacted Miami’s gameplan.

The other Heat player who is experiencing a slump is Herro. In the playoffs last season, Herro looked like he was on the cusp of stardom, putting up 37 points in a crucial Game 4 win in the Eastern Conference Finals to put the Heat up 3-1 in the series. His star was rising fast as a rookie, and his performance in the postseason made the Heat not want to trade him and Robinson in a deal that could’ve brought one-time MVP James Harden to South Beach.

Despite putting up slightly better raw numbers than his rookie season (15 PPG, 5 RPG, 3.4 APG), his shooting efficiency has taken a dip. Herro ranked in the 83rd percentile in non-corner 3s last season, according to Cleaning the Glass. This season, however, that’s dropped to the 39th percentile, as he’s making just 34 percent of his non-corner 3s. His effective field-goal percentage has dropped from last season, and he’s also seen a slight uptick in turnover percentage as well.

Although Herro’s marks are better than a season ago, his efficiency is what’s taken a couple steps back. He’s also missed chunks of time this season due to the league’s health and safety protocols, as well as a foot injury that has kept him sidelined for the last six games for the Heat.  

There was bound to be some regression for some of Miami’s young players after they performed on the biggest stage, but because they were relied upon so heavily in the playoffs a season ago, that regression has been felt heavily in the form of wins and losses for Miami. It’s not just the young guys, either. Dragic, who has had his fair share of injuries over the years has shown signs of slowing down after having a rejuvenated season. 

He hasn’t been as impactful in the pick-and-roll, and he’s finishing at a lower clip around the rim than we’re accustomed to seeing him. Dragic connected on 67 percent of his shots at the rim last season, which puts him in the 92nd percentile among other guards in the league. This season, that’s dipped to a — still respectable — 57 percent on almost the same number of attempts. He’s also seen a career-high in turnover percentage (15.6 percent), and a dip in assist percentage as well. 

All in all, the Heat have been incredibly unremarkable all season long. Instead of competing for one of the top seeds in the East, the Heat have lost games to teams they should’ve beat handily, floundered against opponents with winning records (11-21 vs. teams above .500) and haven’t looked at all like the squad that took everyone by surprise in the Orlando bubble. 

But if there’s one thing that Heat run taught us last season, it’s that a team’s regular season record doesn’t matter as long as they show up in the playoffs. Last season’s Heat team finished fifth in the East, but managed to flip a switch when the playoffs started to make a deep run. Miami caught everyone off guard, led by an unrelenting Butler that willed this team to wins on several occasions, a dominant Adebayo who averaged nearly 18 points and 10 boards a game and role players in Robinson and Herro who knocked down big time shots when needed.

We haven’t seen that version of Miami this season, the team that was able to neutralize the Bucks offense around Giannis Antetokounmpo, and stave off a Celtics team with several offensive weapons at their disposal. Adebayo said as much recently with how this season has gone for Miami: “I feel like we have another level to get to. We haven’t tapped in. We need to get to that level fast before the season goes south.”

Miami currently sits in seventh place in the East, which means they would have to go through the play-in tournament before even reaching the playoffs. We’ve seen this team get to that level Adebayo is talking about, we’ll just have to wait and see if they can reach it again in time for the postseason. 



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